KINGSPORT — A series of Republican U.S. House legislative initiatives to execute immigration reform has a “50-50 chance” of passing Congress in September, U.S. Rep. Phil Roe predicted in a meeting with members of the Times-News Editorial Board.
Last June, the U.S. Senate passed a comprehensive immigration reform measure that would add 20,000 Border Patrol agents and at least 700 miles of fencing along the U.S.-Mexico border, plus spend $4.5 billion on surveillance technology and mandate an E-Verify system for all employers. But during the summer, Roe noted a House Judiciary Committee has taken a step-by-step approach to immigration reform by advancing separate bills.
One is called the “SAFE (Strengthen And Fortify Enforcement) Act,” which would empower local law enforcement to enforce federal immigration laws. The National Immigration and Customs Enforcement Council, the Western States Sheriff’s Association, and the National Association of Former Border Patrol Officers have endorsed the bill.
“It will allow our local police and sheriff’s departments to assist ICE (U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement) and make the border more secure. And it adds almost nothing to the budget,” Roe, R-Tenn., said of the bill.
Another legislative measure would allow employers to allocate more green cards and visas to foreign graduates of U.S. universities with advanced degrees in science, technology, engineering and math.
“If you look at Australia, the United Kingdom and Canada, they immigrate between 62 percent and 72 percent of people with specific skills — they are computer programmers, technicians and doctors. ... In our country, it is 12 percent,” Roe said.
A third bill, said Roe, would develop a tracking system for illegal immigrants, while a fourth would shore up an E-Verify system for employers.
“We found out 40 percent (of immigrants) who came here legally are illegal. ... They came here on a student visa or work visa, but they just never went home,” Roe said. “We’ve got to have a tracking system so when you come in this country, you leave.”
House Republicans, Roe said, have also considered whether to ask border state governors and lawmakers to declare whether their border is secure.
“If (Texas Gov.) Rick Perry and the Texas legislature say ‘Our border is secure,’ I would believe that,” Roe said. “If (Arizona Gov.) Jan Brewer said ‘Our border is secure,’ I would believe that. ... They are there on the border. They know more than anybody.”
Those immigration reform measures, Roe said, will have a nine-day legislative window to pass next month.
But Roe added those measures will compete with votes on a continuing budget resolution, increasing the federal government’s debt ceiling and his bill to repeal an Independent Payment Advisory Board created in Obamacare to rein in Medicare spending.
Roe didn’t think the September session would result in a government shutdown when the new federal budget year starts on Oct. 1.
“I’ve looked at all the (government) shutdowns from 1978 until now,” Roe said. “There have been 17 of them, and the longest was 21 days. If the TSA (Transportation Security Administration) is closed down and grandma doesn’t get her Social Security check, (a shutdown) is over. Every Republican and everyone who is beating their chest will fold up like a bad suit. That’s what I think. ... We don’t need to be holding soldiers’ checks up.”
Besides, Roe said sequestration-triggering automatic cuts has taken discretionary federal spending back to 2008 levels.
“The problem in the (federal) budget is mandatory spending (entitlements). ... We’ve whacked the fence pretty significantly,” Roe said.
In addition to immigration reform and federal spending, Roe said Obamacare implementation has been among the hot topics on the minds of constituents during Town Hall meetings across Northeast Tennessee’s 1st Congressional District.
President Barack Obama’s administration is finally listening to business groups by calling for a yearlong delay of the mandate for large employers to offer health insurance coverage to workers, Roe said.
“(Business groups) got to somebody on the president’s staff and said ‘Look we can’t get this figured out by the first of the year.’” Roe said.
Still, Roe concluded House Republicans aren’t helping themselves by continuing to talk about defunding Obamacare, which can’t happen without help from a Democrat-led Senate.
“I think the biggest disadvantage the Republicans have is a lack of duct tape to go over mouths,” Roe quipped. “If we would have had duct tape in the last (2012) election we would have had two or three of those (Senate) seats. ... We lost four races we should have won.”
For more about Roe, go to www.roe.house.gov.